UAFS Alumni Association: From Grads to Mentors

by: Judith Hansen

Rick Goins thinks that alumni associations should be value added for graduates.

“For graduates who want to keep involved with their school – and we hope they all will – we provide events that offer a chance to keep up with old friends and make new ones, that provide an avenue for networking and career advancement, that keep people updated about the community, and are just plain fun. We hope they’re all fun,” Goins said.

Goins, the director of the UAFS Alumni Association, is a double alum who graduated from Westark Community College in 1972 and UAFS in 2007. He wants to give people good reasons to be involved with the Alumni Association, and he’s willing to offer a great many ways for people to do that.

Start with Mentor Connections, a program that teams a UAFS student, a young alum, and a seasoned executive from the community. There are plenty of mentoring programs for students, but Goins said he’s never seen one that works exactly this way. Senior mentors have included Bill Hanna chairman, president, and CEO of Hanna Oil and Gas; Judy McReyolds, chairman, president, and CEO of ArcBest Corporation; and Sam T. Sicard, president and CEO of First National Bank among many other area business leaders.

“In any team, all three members will have a reason to love the program, but it’s the young alumni mentors, graduates out of school long enough to wear the new off their degrees but not long enough to know exactly where they are going, who consistently say they have the best spot,” Goins said. They enjoy the energy of the students, and they appreciate the advice and counsel of the executives as much or more than the students.

Life isn’t all about work, though, and the Alumni Center sponsors some great family activities as well. Three annual events are tailor-made for young families: Little Lions – Big Splash, an evening at Parrot Island Waterpark; Little Lions Go Wild, a fall day at Wild Things Farm in Pocola, Oklahoma; and Little Lions Meet Santa, a chance for the little guys to tell the big guy what they hope to find on Christmas morning.

With the demands of work and family, it can be hard to keep up with what’s going on around town. The Alumni Association stands ready there, too. Panel discussions cover topics like development ideas for downtown Fort Smith and how to get involved in nonprofits in the city. Events are catered by alumni and begin with a half hour to mingle and network before the program, which is followed by a question and answer segment.

The Alumni Association recently endowed the Alumni Legacy Scholarship for “legacies” – the children, spouses and siblings of alumni. The scholarship is funded by one of the association’s most popular events, the Roarin’ of the River Low-Country Shrimp Boil. Last July more than 150 people gathered for an afternoon of old-fashioned lawn games and steamed shrimp and all the fixings.

Goins is always looking for a new way to engage alumni, and right now he’s thinking about what he’s going to need to start some alumni groups in northwest Arkansas and Tulsa or Dallas. There are active alumni in all three places, so it seems like a project that could take off.

“We’re mapping where our alumni are living so we can get them involved,” Goins said. “If it means we have to take the party to them, we will.”

Best advice is, if you went to Fort Smith Junior College, Westark Junior College, Westark Community College, Westark College, or UAFS, even if you never before participated in an alumni event, get involved this year. We’re pretty sure it’s going to be fun.